Quebec summit & community garden
- Subject: [cg] Quebec summit & community garden
- From: Laura Berman <email@example.com>
- Date: Thu, 17 May 2001 12:22:36 -0400
Here's a community garden story from the recent Quebec summit & protests
that I thought everyone might want to hear.
Date: Tue, 15 May 2001
From: "Eric Laursen" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Getting local at the Summit - a story from Quebec City
Going to a protest in another town can be a bit alienating - you can easily
feel closer to your fellow "summit-hoppers" than to the local community who,
we know, are the ultimate victims of the so-called "global economy." The
following story from Quebec City is offered to show that there are ways to
keep this important connection fresh in our minds, even when those minds are
befuddled by rage and tear gas. Sorry for the multiple sends. If I've got
any details wrong, please let me know ...
One of the more egregious actions of the QC police and the various
paramilitary reenforcements who joined them during the Summit of the
Americas occurred early on Sunday morning, when many activists were already
packing to go home. A squad of cops bulldozed the tent city erected under
the Dufferin-Montmorency Highway overpass, arrested some 25 sleeping cooks
from the kitchen where Food Not Bombs! was feeding people, and, for good
measure, demolished L'Īlot Fleurie, a community garden and sculpture space
that had been maintained by local squatters (among others) for a long time.
Life During Wartime, the affinity group I belong to, had arrived in QC late
the night before. A couple of us took a drive along the perimeter fence on
Sunday morning to see what was happening. When we went by the overpass and
the tent city site, we discovered that it was deserted and demolished.
Nothing was left of the FNB kitchen but some tin walls covered with graffiti
demouncing the police eviction.
At a spokescouncil meeting at Laval University shortly that I attended
shortly afterward, I was surprised to hear no discussion any further actions
to be held on Sunday. The facilitators gave some general reports on the
previous day's actions - including little or nothing that we didn't already
know - and then moved on to planning jail solidarity for those who had been
arrested. All well and good, but we had come to QC the night before hoping
there was still something we could do to show our opposition to the FTAA. So
we decided to take another look around town to see for ourselves if any
groups of activists were still attempting to challenge the cops, the wall
and the summit "dignitaries."
It was slow driving through a city half of whose center was fenced off, and
with no one in our group having a firm grasp of the city's geography. We
didn't find any large groups of activists anywhere, although the air was
still saturated with tear gas and squads of riot cops stood ready to gas
anyone who appeared to have any ideas about defying the perimeter fence.
Late in the afternoon we stopped by the tent city area for another look, and
we found what was left of L'Īlot Fleurie. The garden had literally been
bulldozed - swept up into a neat mound of rocks, dirt, bits of wood and a
few bits of vegetation, just a few feet from where the garden itself had
been the day before. A few of the folks who maintained it were doing their
best with a couple of rickety shovels and trowels, a wheelbarrow and their
bare hands to put it back together.
The sun was going down and we were planning to leave town that evening. We
hadn't found a way to express our opposition to global corporate hegemony in
the way we'd thought we would - loudly, militantly, taking it right to the
Wall of Shame and the delegates who refused to listen to the people's voice.
That's what the TV cameras had been showing all of the last two days, but
with a slightly different spin - rowdy protesters tearing down the barriers
the forces of "order" had set up so that our "democratically elected
officials" could deliberate without being subjected to pressure from the
"mob." What they hadn't shown were the acts of violence being perpetrated by
the Summit on the community of QC. Focusing only on certain flashpoints,
they didn't convey the violence that the entire perimeter fence did to the
city itself and the people who live and work there. They also didn't convey
the horrible physical conditions and occupied-city atmosphere created by air
so soaked with tear gas that people's skin burned, the couldn't see, or (as
in my case) their throats and sinuses hurt for days afterward. And they
didn't, for the most part, bother to cover the violence that destroyed a
community garden that had helped rescue some green space for poor people
from the ugliness created by a knot of highway overpasses and onramps.
So we finally figured out what our action for the day would be - to help
rebuild L'Īlot Fleurie. An older man wearing a cap with a plastic frog on
it, directed us to poke around in the mound of dirt for large rocks to build
back the foundation of the garden, which was built on top of asphalt. Then
we started wheelbarrowing dirt to fill in the new structure while he and
another man formed terraces using smaller stones and pieces of wood. Every
now and then an interesting rock would turn up, or the remains of a plant
from the old garden that just might grow again. By the time we had to knock
off and hit the road, the mound of ruin the cops had created was about
two-thirds gone and the new garden was taking shape.
The man with the frog on his cap loved puns, and he promised us the new
garden would be "vert et ouvert" - green, and open to all. I don't know what
his or the garden's history with the cops had been up to then, but I would
describe his attitude toward what had happened that morning as
philosophical. There's always the danger that the powers-that-be will just
tear it all down again, but he wasn't going to let that bother him.
Gardeners tear up and redo their work all the time to try something new -
maybe he was happy for the excuse to try a different approach. He certainly
wasn't filled with despair.
Ever since Seattle, our political-corporate leaders have liked to warn local
communities about the "violent" protesters who will trash their cities if
they don't deploy thousands of militarized Robocops to protect the luxury
hotels and convention centers that house delegates to meetings like the
Summit of the Americas. They never tell them about the cost to community
itself - to the principle of free speech, to people's right to enjoy the
place where they live, and to the possibility that people can cooperatively
build something that nurtures life outside of the state-corporate system.
Every window broken by an activist becomes an excuse for more repression at
the next ministerial meeting in the next town - which, quite correctly,
breeds more militant resistance. But the state never stops to realize that
perhaps it has a responsibility to repair the damage it does to the
community it is supposed to serve. We have to clean up that mess ourselves.
Part of the ideal of building a non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian future
is confederation - local communities working together cooperatively to
accomplish things they can't do alone. So whatever skills we bring with us
to another city from our local organizing work, we should be willing to put
at the disposal of that city's communities to help them repair the damage
the state does to them while we're there. Those communities shouldn't be
left feeling that we came, we stumblingly brought the police down on them,
we bandaged up our wounded (on the streets or in jail), and then we took
I hope the people at L'Īlot Fleurie will welcome activists again should QC
decide to host another meeting like the Summit of the Americas, because they
know we aren't just using their space as a staging ground for actions that
will be over in two days. We're there because we want to be part of their
community, and to help protect it from the forces we're protesting against.
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